A New Zealand government-commissioned report on abuse in care settings is questioning how the Vatican has handled a Catholic bishop credibly accused of abuse.
The report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care – titled He Purapura Ora, he Māra Tipu; from Redress to Puretumu — was tabled in New Zealand’s parliament on Dec. 15.
Bishop Charles Drennan, the former bishop of the Diocese of Palmerston North, resigned from his diocese on Oct. 4, 2019, after an investigation into a complaint by a young woman that the bishop committed an abuse against her of a sexual nature.
Drennan – a former official of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State – was a member of Te Roopu Tautoko, the body was established to coordinate and manage cooperation between the Catholic Church in New Zealand and the royal commission.
He took over the Diocese of Palmerston North in 2012.
He was one of the first bishops investigated under Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the 2019 papal legislation directing the investigation of allegations of abuse against bishops by the metropolitan archbishop, who in New Zealand is Cardinal John Dew of Wellington.
The royal commission’s report noted it wasn’t until a year after Drennan’s resignation that the Vatican advised Dew of its decision on what conditions to impose on the bishop’s future.
“The Holy See decided to stop Charles Drennan taking part in any public ministry, and to place restrictions on him in relation to his living arrangements (which had to be outside the diocese of Palmerston North), travel, religious clothing and participation in events as a bishop,” the report says.
“Despite Charles Drennan’s resignation as bishop of Palmerston North, at the time of this report he remains a bishop in the Catholic Church …The Diocese of Palmerston North is responsible for meeting the costs of Charles Drennan’s living expenses and rents a house from the Diocese of Auckland, for him to live in,” the report continues.
The royal commission also mentioned the “important consideration” of the ongoing monitoring and supervision of Drennan’s compliance with the Vatican’s restrictions, which Dew told the inquiry was the responsibility of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples through the Holy See’s embassy in New Zealand.
“It is difficult to understand how Church officials from the Holy See in Rome can monitor restrictions imposed on a bishop living in Aotearoa New Zealand. Real concerns arise about the safety of others when only the Holy See can make certain decisions,” the report says.
“The significant delays in this process raise important questions about the efficiency and effectiveness of the Holy See maintaining the ultimate authority over the future ministry of bishops and the disciplinary process for priests who are subject to reports of abuse,” the royal commission said.
The report also noted that Dew told the inquiry in his testimony: “I really don’t know why he is still a bishop.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome